Unambiguous words leading to
dismissal mean what they say
In Willoughby v C F Capital
Plc, the EAT held that unambiguous words leading to dismissal mean what they
say. It must be assumed that the words represent a rational conscious decision
unless the circumstances indicate the contrary, e.g. a ‘ heat of the moment’
dismissal quickly retracted. Once clear words of dismissal are used, the
position cannot be reversed unless the employee agrees.
the banking crisis, CFCap contemplated moving employees to self-employed
status. Miss Willoughby expressed an interest during a meeting with her manager,
Mr Keeley, but did not agree to the change, albeit that Mr Keeley believed that
she had. Three weeks later, Miss Willoughby received a letter terminating her
employment on 31 December. A service agreement was enclosed for self-employed work.
She complained that she had been dismissed when there were no grounds for doing
so. Mr Keeley offered to withdraw the dismissal. Having previously taken legal
advice, Miss Willoughby did not accept. A tribunal rejected her unfair and
wrongful dismissal claims holding that the dismissal was withdrawn as soon as
practicable and in the circumstances, she had resigned.
The EAT upheld Miss
Willoughby’s appeal. Unambiguous words leading to dismissal mean what they say.
The assumption can only be that the words used represent a rational conscious
decision unless the circumstances indicate the contrary, such as a ‘ heat of
the moment’ dismissal, which is retracted very quickly. The letter to Miss
Willoughby suggested the dismissal was intentional and she was entitled to take
the wording at face value. In addition, the employer had taken some time before
trying to resolve the matter. The Xmas/New Year holiday period was not an
for their delay. Once clear words of dismissal are used, including where they
represent a fundamental repudiatory breach of contract, the position cannot be
reversed unless the employee agrees. Miss Willoughby had been dismissed and her
claims would be heard by a fresh tribunal.
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